The Manila Times - Justice prejudged Marcos poll protest

12 October 2020

By Jomar Canlas | The Manila Times

First of Two Parts

The fate of the election protest of former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. had already been decided by its ponente long before the case was assigned to him.

Marcos ran for vice president in 2016 against Maria Leonor Robredo. She won by a narrow margin of about 263,000.

Marcos demanded a recount, claiming the returns from clustered precincts in three Mindanao provinces were questionable.

According to unimpeachable sources of The Manila Times in the Supreme Court, Associate Justice Mario Victor Leonen wanted to dismiss outright Marcos’ protest more than a year after it was brought before the high court, sitting as Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), on June 29, 2016.

After more than four years, the case has gained little headway in the tribunal.

The case was raffled off to Leonen on Oct. 29, 2019, 14 days after the tribunal adopted his recommendation to get the case moving again.

One Times source said on July 10, 2017, Leonen provided his colleagues in the PET a draft of his 25-page reflections on the case before their July 11, 2017 en banc session.

Among the magistrates who made up the tribunal at the time were Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta, Senior Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe, Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa and Leonen himself. Caguioa was the ponente then.

The source said Leonen wanted to dismiss the protest, arguing that it did not specify the acts of fraud, anomalies, or irregularities committed.

Another Times source said that in his reflections, Leonen pressed for dismissing the protest, citing Rule 21 of the PET.

“Marcos’ protest is dismissible under Rule 21 of the Presidential Electoral Tribunal. It does not comply with the requirement of specifically alleging fraud, anomalies and/or irregularities. Entertaining Marcos’ plea for relief, when he himself is unsure of his bases will be condoning Marcos’ exploitation of the state resources for his own fishing expedition,” the source said, directly quoting from Leonen’s reflections.

The source added that Leonen wanted to respect the outcome of the vice presidential elections since “suffrage is at the heart of every democracy.”

In the dispositive portion of the reflections, Leonen recommended “that the protestant (Marcos) be required to plead facts with more specificity. Otherwise, acting on protestee’s (Robredo) Motion for Reconsideration dated February 24, 2017, the protest must be dismissed.”

In her motion, Robredo asked for the outright dismissal of the protest, claiming it did not specify the acts or omissions showing electoral fraud, anomalies and irregularities in the protested precincts in the provinces of Basilan, Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao.

The tribunal denied Robredo’s motion for lack of merit

Another court insider said Leonen was overheard by several officials and employees in the high court as saying that the case might not be resolved until the next elections in 2022.

The case will become moot and academic once Marcos and Robredo file their certificates of candidacy for the 2022 polls.

The deadline for filing of certificates is October 2021.

(To be continued)